In November 1918 a world was ending and a new one beginning. The Great War which had begun in August 1914 following the assassination of the heir apparent to the Throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire wife on June 29th 1914 was in its final days, as was the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Imperial Germany. It was a month saw the collapse of a long established order which through wanton ambition and unchecked arrogance had brought about a war that devastated Europe.
In the years following the war revolution and civil war enveloped much of Europe and led to the rise of Fascism, Communism and Nazism and a second world war. The events of November 1918 led to changes that are still being felt today.
In fact the events that occurred over 90 years ago are the ghosts that haunt Europe today. They are why the European Union is trying so hard to keep Greece from defaulting on its sovereign debt which most believe would destroy the EU and cause global economic and social disruption. Some key European leaders have even raised the specter of war should the Greeks default and the EU collapse.
To the Europeans the thought of such is frightful having been the epicenter of two world wars, continent changing revolutions, genocide and the division of the continent between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The very thought of social and economic chaos brought about by the collapse of the EU is a legitimate concern of the Europeans and it is something that should concern us too because we are so naïve when it comes to civil war.
Yes we had a great civil war which rent the country asunder and cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their lives and left scars that still exist. We say that our civil war pitted brother against brother but it was really more region against region. When civil war came toEuropein the aftermath of World War One it was a war that pitted neighbor against neighbor and it as often far more vicious and insidious in the way that it was waged. It was ideology and class warfare at its worst. People on the left and the right surrendered to their basest instincts and permitted themselves to the most brutal atrocities committed not against a foreign power, but their neighbors, and in the case of some men who had served together in the trenches against their former comrades in arms.
The deep scars lurk underneath Europe’s veneer of peace and prosperity. Despite all its advances and the remarkable changes that have occurred in the years following the Second World War the scars of the wars remain. Europe is more fragile than than it looks and Europe’s leaders understand this. They also understand that people in the smaller and weaker countries like Greece feel threatened by the power of Germany and France, nations that lead the EU and each at one time dominated the continent by the force of arms and have dominated it economically the past 20 years.
The leaders of Europe and many of its people are justifiably concerned about their future because their ancestors lived that future. We should be concerned as well because same social, political and economic dynamics are in play in our country but our extremists on the left and the right cannot see the danger. For both it has become a zero sum game. Eventually as the Europeans found out in the 1920s and 1930s when it is a zero sum game no compromise is possible and one side will eventually crush their opponents until they themselves are crushed by forces that they unleash but cannot control.
In the mid 1920s an artificial a brief period of prosperity enabled by cheap credit extended by the United States provided Europeans the illusion that their fragile new democracies might take root. Then in October 1929 the economic house collapsed and the world entered the Great Depression and with it the social order melted away. Governments collapsed under the weight of mass movements championed by radicals on the left and the right. We know the rest of the story. The question is will it happen again?
November 1918, November 2011. Are we about to see Europe and the world plunged into another period of unrelenting economic turmoil, social and political unrest leading to civil wars and wars of conquest? People like German Chancellor Angela Merkel warn of this with good reason and we should be concerned not just for Europe but for our own country. If the EU collapses the consequences will wash upon our shores.